Internet sensation, theater group takes on first tour

Sarah-Grace Sweeney

Team StarKid, a Chicago-based theater troupe originally started by a group of theater students at University of Michigan, decided to do something unique with one of their original musical productions. After working with writers to create “A Very Potter Musical,” the group uploaded the production online, not expecting the millions of views and Internet fame that followed.

A Very Potter Musical” is a musical parody of the “Harry Potter” novels by J.K. Rowling. The idea came from a set of jokes written by Nick Lang, Matt Lang and Brian Holden who went on to write the musical. The musical features the key characters like Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermoine Granger, but combines the story with original music, choreography and jokes.

It has not been performed live for most fans because no one expected it to be more than just friends putting on a play. However, with the group’s first and almost completely sold-out tour underway, it has clearly become much more than that.

“You go into things with expectations, and this whole situation is a perfect example [that] you can’t,” said Joey Richter, a member of the troupe who starred as Ron Weasley. “It’s going to happen the ways it’s going to happen and that’s really exciting.”

Team StarKid’s tour, called The SPACE Tour (short for StarKid Precarious Auditory Concert Experience) will feature songs from “A Very Potter Musical” and its sequel, as well as its other musicals “Me and My Dick” and “Starship” being sung by familiar faces like Richter and Lauren Lopez, who played Draco Malfoy in “A Very Potter Musical.”

The troupe will be performing some songs originally composed by StarKid co-founder Darren Criss, who is now a member of the cast of “Glee.” Criss got his start with StarKid by playing Harry Potter in “A Very Potter Musical” and the sequel.

This has brought a lot of attention to the group as a whole. They sell T-shirts, their music on iTunes and DVDs of their musicals. They have 78,000 followers on Twitter and an extremely devoted fan base, but Richter does not feel like the group dynamic has really changed despite the success.

“Yes, there’s a lot of stuff we do at this point that has more money behind it, and there’s a bar set with everything we do,” Richter said. “But I don’t think as performers or friends or anything, that’s really affected who we are as a group.”

By putting “A Very Potter Musical” up for free on YouTube, they made a popular musical theater experience available to anyone with a computer. The musical quickly gained two million views and today the StarKid YouTube channel has over 99 million views. Musicals like “Wicked” are usually only available at established theaters with tickets priced anywhere from $30 to $60.

“It’s hard for people to see really cool, exciting new theater nowadays,” Lopez said. “So it’s cool to be able to bring [theater] to light and show people it’s not as inaccessible as they once thought.”

Though the internet productions have earned Team StarKid a lot of attention, neither Richter or Lopez think they will stop doing live performances.

“[Live performances] are where a lot of the spark from our shows come from. A lot of that chemistry you witness between us on stage comes from live performances,” Richter said. “I don’t think that’s an aspect we’ll ever want to lose.”

Lopez said with every project the group does become more efficient and cohesive, but their sudden Internet fame is a bond that really connects Team StarKid.

“We were kind of thrown into this accelerated path that kind of exploded out of nowhere,” Lopez said. “So we’re all kind of closer because we shared that.”

The characters played by Richter and Lopez and the rest of Team StarKid are what Richter calls “exaggerated versions” of themselves. Richter described playing Ron as taking the book character to a severe extreme in regards to his personality and relationships to other characters.

“I mean, ‘A Very Potter Musical’ we did in like a week. So there wasn’t a lot of time for really deep character analysis or anything,” Lopez said. “I mean that character is a joy to play. He’s a silly yet a very, hopefully, endearing character.”

It is thanks to these first characters and the positive reactions received from the fans that Team StarKid has had such success.

“We wouldn’t have done anything else after that because we were all kind of going our separate ways,” Lopez said of the musical. “So the fans have really made it possible for us to stick together.”

As much as they owe to the fans, Lopez and Richter would not give anything away about the tour just yet. The show will be their shortest yet, compared to the usual three or three-and-a-half hour shows on YouTube. The show will be StarKid classics, Richter said, including songs like “Granger Danger” and “Kick it Up a Notch.”

“The only thing we were told to expect [about touring] is that we are going to hate each other by the end from living on the buses,” Lopez said. “So I’m hoping that doesn’t come true.”

Though Richter and Lopez are excited to meet all of the fans and new faces that have never seen a live Team StarKid performance, the fame is not something either of them are used to just yet.

“I think we all feel lucky to be able to do what we do and to be able to do it so early in our careers,” Richter said. “But we’re all going, ‘What the hell are we doing? Who do we think we are going on this month long tour?’”